NYC Plastic Bag “Ban” — It’s time to stop whining

This article is mostly meant for those who would like to embrace change and help our environment, oceans and overall well-being. Your suggestions and ideas are strongly welcomed.

Plastics bags will have a 5cent cost starting October 2016 in NYC! Unlike what the plastic industry wants eveybody to hear, it’s not a ban, but a small fee to push consumers to think twice before taking yet another bags. It’s a timely victory by a very determined attorney and team.

Reading the news about it and the counter arguments, got me thinking about human nature. Never a good thing, I know. Yet, every time, I find myself contemplating why it’s so difficult for us to accept that we might have faltered, been wrong for, yes, all those years yet so easy to put our efforts to just crap all over our chances to make it right. Inevitably societies tend to accept and move on, but what can happen within a matter of days or weeks, takes months and mostly years. While we’re arguing, the damage we’re causing continues. Change, as small as it might be, is just so scaryCim.

Remember the debates about the smoking ban in bars. There was such great opposition — businesses saying it will impact their revenues — took years to pass in some places, yet once implemented it proved simple to follow with positive results and no impact to business — if anything more non-smokers started going to restaurants and bars. The plastic bag ban is promising to be no different. Look at California, DC, Oregon — where the ban has been implemented — havent heard of people losing their jobs from the ban, or starving because they couldn’t carry their groceries home.

Unfortunately, from those who will not be profiting from the change we get reasons to resist the corrective action. The counter arguments for “banning” the plastic bags manage to create noise and confusion for some, if we don’t think them through. There is always a reason not to change. The key is to stay focused and find solutions.

The plastic industry — in this case specifically the Progressive Bag Alliance — is not denying that there are plenty of plastic bags and plastics in landfills and oceans.

Just plastic bags make up 10% of waste that are found in landfills. Unknown is the number of bags in the ocean, but estimates say we have a pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish in the ocean — with predictions that there will be more plastics than fish by 2050.

The proof is in front of us, mostly flying around over our heads in the middle of 5th Avenue. The number of plastic bags that are found in the tree tops in NYC have created an entire group and culture of it’s own — that’s how ubiquitous the plastic bag problem in NYC is.

Back to to the point — what the Progressive Bag Alliance is saying is that the solution to ban bags will not have the desired impact because the alternative is at least equally, if not even more, damaging. The amount of resources and time they spend to make points like “reusable bags can cause the spread of bacteria if not washed” as an argument against the ban makes their perspective difficult to take seriously. We all know not washing many reusable things — including clothes, hands and even plastic bags themselves — can cause the spread of harmful bacteria. It’s not an argument worth bringing into the discussion, it’s a filler. Many of the points they present as “counter” have straight-forward solutions and as such not reason to avoid changing our habits.

There are points we all agree on too. It is more productive when we focus our efforts and discussions on solutions for these points as starters.

One that we all agree is that the general population lacks the knowledge and information on the proper recycling practices.

Especially when it comes to plastic bags. It seems that the majority of people are divided into 2 groups — either that plastic bags are not recyclable or that they are recyclable together with all the other plastics. Both thoughts are false.

Plastic bags are only recyclable through the proper recycling facilities who are equipped to handle this specific type of plastic material.

One effort might be to use the 5 cents fee towards spreading this information. Instead of just the notorious “Thank you” also print “This bag is not like other plastics, please remember to recycle at the proper recycling location/bin”. Include information on print media/advertisements for the products.

Another effort is to put up simple signage in stores that provide plastic bags and/or collection services. When I first went to WholeFoods I had to walk around for 5 minutes around the store, then ask somebody only to find out that you actually hand in the plastic bags to the information desk. They have a tiny little bin behind the desk. That’s how much people recycle them!

We can also increase the availability of plastic bag recycling locations and place proper visible signage for people to know WHERE to go. Most residences and businesses do not know that they can setup a collection location easily. People are looking for convenience. When I realized that in our high-rise building (over 400 units) people were throwing their plastic bags into the plastic recycling bins, I emailed the association — it took only a few weeks and we had the proper bins in our recycling rooms and sent a mass communication to all tenants. The maintenance personnel report much lower numbers of plastic bags in plastic recycling bins! This, in only a couple of weeks of effort — results instead of talk.

An option to increase the recycling habit is to incentivize consumers and retailers. If nothing else create a pointing system — award recycled bag products or something more creative — partner with retailers and organizations who are take back locations etc.

There’s plenty of opportunity here.

Increasing the amount of plastics that are recycled will also increase the available supply for recycled plastics. This is a win-win situation for the industry as they will be able to create a steady volume of products that are made from recycled plastics.

Another effort would be finding ways to increase the demand and use of plastics and bags made from recycled materials. Most stores just go for the cheapest option obviously and get bags that are not made of recycled material and that’s that. Again — providing a discount for ordering materials made of recycled plastics when they setup as a collection location would be small step.

As consumers we need to start requesting this from the places we shop. I always ask if they have any products that are made from recycled plastics (and in the US) — that I’d be more interested in that. Even FreshDirect listens — and they sent me a long email back about what they’re trying to work on to reduce the amount of wrappers they need to use in a single order.

The reality is in front of us — there are way too many plastic pieces and particles floating around every city, continent and in the middle of nowhere in the oceans.

It is poisoning us, marine and other life and our planet!

We have a problem. We need to solve it. We created it together, we solve it together. The smart way is to roll-up our sleeves and do it — the alternative is to have a tantrum and say “I don’t want to play!” in which case you get to be banned from the “game”.

It is hopeful though, there is a shift of what consumers are requesting — as more people become aware and conscious this shift will only be more powerful. And soon we’ll get to a point where we will not be seeing so many plastic bags flying while sitting in a conference room on the 30 something floor of a downtown building overlooking the river and no longer see pictures of birds filled with plastics and our worries about the health and content of the seafood we’re eating will subside.

What are your thoughts? How would you suggest we educate the public, increase recycling practices and use of recycled materials? Would very much appreciate your opinion. Please leave a comment below.

Ocean Actionist. Circular Economy Consultant. Reuse and Plastic recycling SME. Entrepreneur. Speaker. Underwater Photographer. NYC.

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